Parish Volunteers: He’s a Jack (or John) of all trades

John Jones emerges every July. He’s the guy who knows everything about setting up for the festival. It’s a tough job, but John does it for the love of his parish.

You’re a big sports fan. Hockey is your favorite; you even played it. How did you get involved in sports and what do you enjoy most about it?

My father was a semipro pitcher in a northern New York league and a big Yankees fan. He got me started watching games on TV, and I coached Little League and Pony League baseball, and he took me to Clinton Comets games where I became a hockey nut playing the game in youth leagues through the Mohawk Valley Oldtimers adult league. I most enjoy the competition at all levels of sports.

The Boston Bruins is your favorite NHL team, and you followed the Boston Celtics for years. Yet, you still like some New York teams. How did you end up being a fan of Beantown teams?

The Bruins were winning a lot in the ’70s and appeared on TV the most it seemed and had a cast of real characters and good players, and I just loved their tough play. Same with the Celtics as they had won eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-’66 and were on TV every Sunday in the NBA Game of the Week. I’m a big Yankees and New York Giants fan. Go figure!

You and your wife are season ticket holders with the Utica Comets. How have you seen our city progress over the last few years since the Comets re-emerged several years ago?

The Comets brought new life and energy to Utica as a quality of life positive for the city. The Aud was refurbished to look like it was just built with many progressive amenities for fans. The building of the Nexus Center has brought much revenue into the city’s hotel, restaurant and retail businesses. We are fortunate that a city of our size was awarded another AHL franchise and the fan response to the Comets contributed greatly to the emergence of the Utica City FC soccer team calling Utica home. Both pro teams and the many bookings of hockey, soccer and lacrosse tournaments at the Nexus Center are a win-win for the city and its sports fans.

The military is very special to you, having served 29 years. What made it so special?

The military taught me structure and organization that I have invoked in many aspects of my life. The friendships made with those you serve with are everlasting and you learn to respect and understand the history of the service to our country of those who came before you. I traveled the world and saw many historical sites that I know I would have never experienced without military service as part of my life. 

You served in Operation Desert Storm — the first Persian Gulf War — in 1991. Give some insight into what you did and what the experience was like.

Well, the middle of Saudi Arabia was like landing on the moon — a landscape of sand, rock and earthtone brown — not a speck of green to be seen. I was an aircraft weapons technician that loaded bombs and missiles on F-16 fighter jets. We worked 63 straight days, 12 hours a day from the start of the war on Jan.17 until mid-March with daytime temps of 120-plus. We slept in 10-man tents and endured many “whiteout” sandstorms. Our chemical warfare gear was with us everywhere we went. It’s not the place I would recommend anyone to see their travel agent to book a vacation stay!

Home remodeling is another love of yours. What satisfaction do you get from working with your hands?

Well, some days it was a love and many it wasn’t. The balance of splitting your time between work, a wife and raising four kids and all the other commitments in life can be challenging. I’m in year 50 now of a 25-year projected home renovation schedule. I learned from a few relatives and neighbors how to do carpentry, electrical and plumbing work. The materials are a major cost in home remodeling, so if you can save on the labor costs and do it yourself, that is in your favor. I get great satisfaction when I complete a job and have thanked God many times that He has blessed me with the skills of working with my hands.

Another love is model railroading. How did you get into that and what have you accomplished with that hobby?

My father worked for the New York Central Railroad for 40-plus years. I spent my youth in Utica’s beautiful train station most summers as my father would take me to work with him many times. We took the train to many places as a family. The ’50s and ’60s were wonderful decades for train travel. I have attended many model train shows over the years buying numerous HO scale trains, buildings and accessories. I never had time to start my layout while working and raising a family, hoping to do so when I retired. I started later in life than I expected but now try and get down my cellar every chance I get to “work on the railroad.” I’m in a model train club with a half dozen others and we operate trains on their layouts different days each month. It is a fun and self-rewarding hobby.

You’ve been an integral part of our festival in setting up the grounds. You know where everything goes and workers follow your lead. How did you get involved doing that and what satisfaction do you get from it?

I took over as festival chairman in 2009 after Father Rose (who labeled me Jack) asked me to do so. I was the chairman for four years through 2012 and learned the setup and all its nuances from the previous chairman, Mark Spiridigloizzi. Somehow, after relinquishing my chairman duties. the job morphed into the “walking boss” or “job-site foreman” of the festival grounds setup and teardown — a job that takes us 10 to 12 days to accomplish. It is very satisfying to see it all come together on the opening Friday night when the grounds are full of people, the bands are playing and the people of the parish and community are enjoying great food and drink and each other’s company.

You also have what you call your “festival bible.” Please explain what that is.

It is a large three-ring binder with information from A to Z on every aspect of the organizational makeup and planning of the festival. There is a breakdown of the month-to-month requirements and deadlines that any chairman must adhere to and accomplish beginning in January of the year in order to have a smooth running and successful festival. I spent many hours on my computer putting it together and hoped that would be my legacy to Mount Carmel (just kidding). I know Father Jim relies on it after the first of the year comes around and much time it is visible and has a home in the rectory office atop the counter.

You’ve been a parishioner for years. Put into words what our parish means to you.

Yes, baptized at Mount Carmel and a lifelong parishioner. I had three of my children attending Catholic school here when, unfortunately, the school closed. I have a connection to the Italian heritage of the parish as my mother was Italian and our family grew up and lived in East Utica all our lives. The parish is very welcoming and the programs and social activities that are offered enhance the closeness and friendships you see and feel amongst our parishioners. My wife and I have been blessed to have met and have made many long-lasting friendships within the parish faithful. Our church is a crown jewel in Central New York, and we must carry on its teachings and traditions for years to come.

Many of our volunteers are getting on in years. Explain why new blood is needed to carry on our traditions.

Being involved with the festival more so in the last 17 years since my retirement, I have seen many of our festival core workers and people in the know decline in health and / or pass on. The knowledge and work ethic they displayed annually at festival time was immeasurable. Some passed on their talents and recipe secrets to their children and grandchildren. That is why today’s veteran festival volunteers must insist the younger generations within their families get involved in the festival before it declines in quality or ceases to exist entirely. I once had a boss who said, “Nothing is forever.” A truer statement there is not.

John Jones

  • Age: 72.
  • Family: Wife Rosemary, married for 50 years; sons John and David; daughters Cynthia and Maryrose; grandchildren Arianna, Brian and Julianna; another boy on the way this November.
  • Education: Proctor High School class of 1968, Mohawk Valley Community College, Community College of the Air Force with an associate degree.
  • Employment: Store manager Rite Aid Corp. from 1972-1986, Department of Defense (Air Force) civil service aircraft weapons technician at Hancock Field (Air National Guard) in Syracuse from 1986-2006.
  • Military service: Retired from active duty with Air Force and New York Air National Guard, 29-year career, veteran of the Persian Gulf War / Saudi Arabia (Desert Storm 1991).
  • Things you like to do in your spare time: Remodel my house, watch sports on TV, attend Utica Comets games, model railroading, spend time with family and great friends.
  • Favorite movie: “Cool Hand Luke.”
  • Favorite TV show: “The Fugitive.”
  • Favorite musical artist: Neil Diamond.
  • Favorite actor: Clint Eastwood.
  • Favorite quote: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” — Gen. George S. Patton